Walter Cronkite

CBS got scared. Rather’s paw prints were certainly be found all over Cronkite’s back! Not a pretty scene.

Mediabistro’s TVNewser (Actually Gail Shister) is reporting WalterCronkite “is gravely ill, according to multiple CBS News sources. The network began updating his obituary more than a week ago, a source adds.”

How sad. Walter Cronkite was the dean on TV anchormen and an unlikely voice questioning the Vietnam War in the late sixties and early seventies. He was called the “Most Trusted Man in America.” It was a title earned and deserved.

In 1981 he was removed to make way for Dan Rather. Rather had threatened to leave CBS unless he was installed as the main anchor. CBS got scared. Rather’s paw prints were certainly be found all over Cronkite’s back! Not a pretty scene.

Even after retirement Cronkite remained active, but it was never the way it had been when he led his network’s coverage.

If these reports are true and Walter Cronkite is on death’s door it will mark the passing of an era–one which will never be repeated.

I Work In The Ego Business

It’s possible there’s a business where the employees have larger egos than we do in TV, but I haven’t found it. By the way, I’m not excluding myself. I have a room sized ego – and a large room at that.

That’s one reason why Roger Friedman’s revelation (and Gail Shister’s this past weekend) of trouble in Katie Couric’s paradise is not a big surprise to me.

Katie Couric’s barrage of bad publicity is coming not from the outside, but from the inside of CBS, sources tell me.

Indeed, one of Couric’s frequently mentioned enemies is Bob Schieffer, the lovable, durable veteran journalist who filled in as anchor of the “CBS Evening News” between Dan Rather’s departure and Couric’s arrival.

But sources say that Schieffer has been unhappy lately, mainly because his airtime, which was prominent when Couric first started, has dwindled in recent weeks.

Avuncular Bob Schieffer – really? Again, no surprise.

Once you’ve make the decision to be ‘on’ TV, you really should give up all pretenses of not being interested in the superficial aspects broadcasting brings. They are intoxicating. They can be kept under control… no, they should be kept under control, though that’s more difficult done than said.

I’ve heard stories of news anchors who had their spouses time the ‘reads’ each anchor had! Don’t shortchange my hubby, you hussy!

Even people I’ve sat next to on the news set have looked at me as if I’d dropped in from another planet. They were poised to blame me personally for any lack of success that might follow.

The truth is, any time there’s any ratings falloff people go searching for a scapegoat. If you work at a car dealership, people might not like your cars. If you work on TV, the product is often you!

I once worked with an anchor team that couldn’t stand each other. He was quiet and studious. She was brash and abrasive. One night she let him have it with a horrific tongue lashing, which she ended by telling him he was a “no talent.”

She timed her diatribe to finish just as the theme ended and the mikes went live. He was left without the ability to respond. I can’t imagine how that must have felt.

The CBS Evening News ratings are off. But, what you mainly hear is, Katie’s ratings are off. It’s tough when so much of the product is considered to be you. It’s also an insult to the other people reporting, producing and executing the show… but they’re not the ‘face.’

When you make $15,000,000 per year there’s a huge bullseye on your back. Lots of people are anxious to point out, they told you so.

I’m not sure if Katie will make it through her contract, but if she doesn’t, I’d bet the pressure will come from inside, not outside.

On Dan Rather

Today was Dan Rather’s last day at CBS. He went out as damaged goods.

I never met him. We have no mutual friends. I don’t even want to comment on the ‘Bush papers’ that ultimately were his downfall.

It is interesting to note, no matter how far removed in time, I can’t think of Dan Rather without thinking of what happened to Walter Cronkite.

Most times, someone loses a job when someone else gets one. Beverly Johnson, a beautiful, very nice woman, was fired just before I was hired in Connecticut. Those decisions were made without my involvement. I always sensed it was different with Rather.

News coverage through the years implied, or sometimes outright said, he did not want Walter Cronkite to steal his thunder. When CBS gave him the job, keeping him from bolting, Cronkite’s fate was sealed. For Dan to be in, Walter would be out.

Today’s departure is about as close as life comes to full circle.

Blogger’s note – It’s possible over time I have goofed up this story, or remembered things that happened differently or perhaps didn’t happen at all. Corrections are always welcomed.

Politics About To Get Even Dirtier

During every recent election cycle there has been kvetching about how dirty politics has become. This, by the way, is a non-partisan dig. Both of our major political parties have been willing participants in mud related activities.

Sadly, negative advertising works in politics. It might work elsewhere, but we consider ourselves too sophisticated a society to put up with “Toyota sucks” commercials, paid for by GM.

As bad as it’s been, there’s been some restraint, mainly because those in charge have been ‘organizational’ people. You don’t get anywhere in any organization by being snippy and anti-social 100% of the time. People who fit in rise in organizations.

Now, the voice of politics might be the voice of bloggers&#185 – people who can stay home, by themselves, with none of the interpersonal requirements an office brings. Bring on the vitriol.

Here in Connecticut, Ned Lamont’s campaign for US Senate would be nowhere without the support of political bloggers. Howard Dean’s ill fated run for president was mounted on the backs of the blogging community. Dan Rather might still be anchoring the CBS Evening News, but for bloggers.

Adam Cohen, on this morning’s New York Times editorial page, talked about how computers and the Internet are making it possible for 15 year olds to swing elections. He was referring to this video, which has been viewed 30,000 times already (there are at least two versions on When was the last time you expressed your views to 30,000 strangers (and growing)?

Ava Lowery’s video was originally shown at the “YearlyKos,” the ‘political convention’ of liberal bloggers held last week in Las Vegas.

The cutting-edge discussions at YearlyKos were about the intersection of technology and politics. Bloggers sketched out their plans for shaping news in upcoming elections. The liberal political-action group Democracy for America gave a primer on turning online activism into offline activism, by developing networks of supporters and sending out “action alerts” to get them to contribute money and volunteer for campaigns and causes. The Participatory Culture Foundation, a nonprofit group, led a workshop on how ordinary people can make political videos and distribute them over the Internet.

We enter an era where partisans, with little restraint and powerful tools, will control the noise – if not the conversation. The technology seems to be an equal opportunity enabler (though Cohen felt the progressive wing of the Democratic Party would benefit most).

It would be a shame to think, as 2006 and then 2008’s political ads get going, what we’ve just been through were the good old days.

&#185 – Geoff, are you talking about yourself? To a certain extent, as this blog is primarily done while I’m by myself, with no outside consultation. There is no safety on my trigger, other than me.

Often I censor myself. That’s probably because of 35+ years of broadcasting live. Which bloggers have that experience?

Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather – I Understand

There has been a lot of talk about Walter Cronkite’s CNN interview and his answer to questions about Dan Rather.

“Although Dan did a fine job, I would have liked to have seen (Schieffer) there a long time ago,” Cronkite said during an interview on CNN. “He would have given the others a real run for their money.”

“It surprised quite a few people at CBS and elsewhere that, without being able to pull up the ratings beyond third in a three-man field, that they tolerated his being there for so long,” he told CNN.

You might expect Cronkite, still a member of the CBS board, to be a little more charitable… be more of a team player. I didn’t. In fact, I am surprised this kind of talk didn’t happen earlier.

Thinking back, my recollection is Dan Rather putting on the pressure and forcing CBS to move Cronkite out. Roger Mudd, who was passed over in this bloodless coup, bolted and went to NBC.

From Mike Straka on

According to the late ABC News and Sports president Roone Arledge’s autobiography “Roone: A Memoir,” Rather used ABC as a negotiating chip to force CBS’s hand to install him as the anchor of CBS Evening News six months earlier than Cronkite had planned to retire. This was at a time when Cronkite was considered the most trusted man in America.

What’s the old line? Be nice to the people you meet on the way up. They’re the same people you’ll meet on the way down.

Stay Safe… Except Me

Hurricane Alex has just left the East Coast. Within days it will be a memory, absorbed into the normal flow of extra-tropical weather. As hurricanes go, it was small and its impact to the Carolina’s will be discernible, but small.

Since Alex was never thought to be a huge storm, I didn’t get to cringe at the sight of TV reporters, and weather people, standing in the thick of it all – all the while telling others to stay inside where it’s safe.

I think this is right up there with tobacco companies telling me not to smoke. Where’s the credibility.

I know where this came from. Dan Rather got his TV chops covering a hurricane in Texas. It was because of that very gritty series of on-location reports that he was plucked from obscurity. Good for Dan.

The problem is, all the warnings we give on TV are correct. Hurricanes are dangerous storms. Being in the midst of an open area, adjacent to open water, with a hurricane coming on shore, is going to get someone killed.

I have watched live shots as reporters tilted off vertical, into the wind, in order to stand. In the background of those shots I’ve also seen debris and building materials turned into missiles. That they didn’t find a reporter is only luck.

In a larger sense, aren’t we sending the wrong signal to viewers? It’s a ‘do as I say’ mentality that will entice others into harm’s way.

You might be saying, “But Geoff, you’ve flown through the eye of two hurricanes. Isn’t that a little crazier and a lot more dangerous?”

Thanks. I’m glad I asked that.

Flying through a hurricane is totally different. The planes are specifically outfitted to withstand the buffeting they get. The planes are flown at an altitude where there is no solid debris to run into. And the well trained crews have the benefit of radar and other instrumentation to know where, and where not, to go.&#185

I also won’t criticize tornado chasers. As far as I can tell, no one has ever been hurt while chasing a tornado. These are compact systems with reasonably predictable paths. It is quite reasonable to watch a tornado safely from a distance, if you know what you’re doing.

Back when I did PM Magazine/Buffalo I used to joke around about the fact that you can’t get hurt if you’re in front of a camera and tape’s rolling. Of course that’s just not so. Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of the reporters in big storms feel just that way.

I hope this isn’t the year when something tragic happens. That time is coming. It’s not a question of if, but when.

&#185 – Hurricane Hunter planes never fly directly into the eye. They always turn into the wind and cut diagonally to the eye. This makes some of the terrible force near the center nothing more than a ferocious headwind.

Hurricane Coverage – Enough Already

There’s a TV news oriented daily newsletter called ShopTalk which is published at the website. It’s been around forever… even before there was an Internet. It’s the place to vent, if you want to be read by most everyone. And, today it was my turn to vent!

From: Geoff Fox

RE: Isabel

I have watched today in stunned disbelief as Hurricane Isabel has turned TV news into some sort of weird reality show.

It’s been live shot after live shot, featuring soggy, windblown reporters in harm’s way. Since 1961, when local TV reporter Dan Rather found his way to CBS based on his performance in Hurricane Carla, hurricane coverage has been looked upon as the perfect inclusion in an audition tape. Over the past few years, with increasingly good live capabilities, we’ve just gone nuts.

Gritty hurricane coverage means more eyeballs watching. It is compelling television. No one will deny that. But, hold on. What the hell are we doing and showing our viewers?

Even with the moderate (for a hurricane) wind that Isabel is now producing, projectiles of all types become airborne. How long will it be before we see a reporter or photographer killed or injured live? And, how can we report on evacuation orders when the example we show on the air is of us disregarding them. We are promoting disrespect for public safety.

Some folks covering the storm might say, “I have experience and know what to do.” This is somewhat like dodging a few bullets and then declaring yourself bulletproof.

The sad truth is, at this moment, this story is being covered by people who have gone beyond any margin of safety, where one unforeseen circumstance could mean a life. Maybe they don’t know that even solidly built concrete structures, like the Richelieu Apartments in Pass Christian, MS, can be wiped clean to the foundation by a hurricane.

Is this worth it?

One last thing… After looking this posting over, I found one misspelled word “airborne” and one improperly punctuated word “harm’s.” How embarrassing.

Hurricane Pissing Match

Sometime in the next day or so, I’ll write more about Isabel. But, tonight, I saw an incredible press release from AccuWeather from earlier this summer. It’s posted on the link below.

This is the kind of sniping you seldom see between government and private industry. It’s obvious, the gloves are off.

But, should anyone who forecasts for a living ask to be judged on specific individual forecasts, as opposed to forecasts over periods of time? We all make mistakes from time-to-time. Is one event’s forecast indicitave of anything?

Meanwhile, the most interesting part is that this really is a pissing match, in public.

Continue reading “Hurricane Pissing Match”